I think a lot about the concept of “enough.” Of course, it comes up regularly with clients. How much of a nest egg is enough? Do we have enough? Am I saving enough every year? Do I have enough life insurance? Do we have enough for the kids’ college?
There’s another side of this story, one about lifestyle and income. Deciding that your income is enough is not an easy thing. Who wouldn’t like just a little bit more? (Or perhaps more than just a little bit more.) Lifestyle creep is quiet and subtle. Eating out a little bit more often, buying just one more upgrade on the car, getting just a little bit nicer of a hotel on vacation, splurging on the bigger cable package, pushing the upper limit of your price range for a new home, upgrading your new bike just a little here and there. You’ve earned it, right?
I was reminded of how hard “enough” can be to get when I was re-watching Breaking Bad recently. Here’s Walt from season five on the topic of enough:
Later in the season, after Todd and his white supremacist buddies have stolen Walt’s millions, Todd wants to keep cooking and selling meth, unable to walk away from the lure of more and more money.
“No matter much much you’ve got, how do you turn your back on more?” – Todd, Breaking Bad, Season 5, Episode 15
Of course (spoiler alert for a 3 year old show) – everybody dies in their pursuit of more. Walt could have taken the money and ran long ago. Todd could have done the same after stealing Walt’s piles of cash. Either of them would have lived a life of luxury for decades without earning a penny of interest. Of course, ego plays a huge role in their failure to find enough but perhaps that’s a topic for another day.
I’m a big believer that finding your “enough” early in life is a key not just to financial success but to happiness in general. The sooner you can recognize that additional luxuries would be nice but not necessary for your happpiness, the better off you’re going to be. Do I want to own 5 more high end bikes? Of course I do. Will doing so really make me more happy? Probably not. Moreso, recognizing that those 5 bikes won’t buy me happiness also makes it easier for me to reach financial independence earlier and have more confidence in that independence. I’m not going to sit here and advocate that everyone live with “Mustachian” levels of frugality and spending. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum of what enough means for us. But the most dangerous thing would be to never consider how much is enough for you and your family, to be caught in a constant cycle of thinking that just a little bit more will be enough, just a little bit more will make you happy, just a little bit more will make you feel that you’ve finally arrived. Because just a little bit more isn’t a number, it’s not a concrete goal. Just a little bit more is a tantalizing, mythical unicorn that you will never, ever catch.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention John Bogle’s excellent and short book on this topic, aptly titled “Enough.”